Cover image for A nun in the closet
A nun in the closet
Gilman, Dorothy, 1923-2012.
Personal Author:
Large print edition.
Publication Information:
Boston : G. K. Hall, 1975.
Physical Description:
323 pages ; 25 cm
Format :

On Order



From the bestselling author of the Mrs. Pollifax books comes a new mystery habit to acquire. From the moment Sister John and Sister Hyacinthe reach the old house left to their abbey by a mysterious benefactor, their cloistered world begins to crumble. First, there is the wounded man hiding in the house, then the suitcase stuffed with money sitting at the bottom of the well, not to mention fearful apparitions in the night. Lord only knows what's going on. That is, until the good sisters, armed only with their faith and boundless energy, set things right--even if it means a shocking revelation or two about ghosts, gangsters...and murder. Copyright © Libri GmbH. All rights reserved.

Author Notes

Dorothy Gilman was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey on June 25, 1923. She studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Under her married name, Dorothy Gilman Butters, she began publishing children's books in the late 1940s including Enchanted Caravan and The Bells of Freedom. In 1966, she published The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax, which became the first novel in the Mrs. Pollifax Mystery series. The series concluded in 2000 with Mrs. Pollifax Unveiled. The series was the basis of two movies: the 1971 feature film Mrs. Pollifax - Spy starring Rosalind Russell and the 1999 television movie The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax starring Angela Lansbury. Her other works include The Clairvoyant Countess, Incident at Badamya and Kaleidoscope. A Nun in the Closet won a Catholic Book Award. She died due to complications of Alzheimer's disease on February 2, 2012 at the age of 88.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 1

Library Journal Review

When an unknown benefactor bequests a large property to the cloistered nuns of St. Tabitha Abbey, the community sends two of its members-Sisters John and Hyacinthe-to check out their inheritance. The outside world offers them plenty of surprises (from hippies to the Mafia), but all obstacles are overcome by their ingenuity and Sister John's "perfect faith." Fans to the author's Mrs. Pollifax series (e.g., Mrs. Pollifax and the Golden Triangle, Audio Reviews, LJ 11/15/93) will easily detect the similarity between that illustrious spy and the indomitable Sister John and will feel at home with the pervasive lightweight humor. Still, this mystery leaves much to be desired. The plot is highly contrived, there is little suspense, and most of the humor rests on the nuns' incredible naïveté. While cloistered nuns doubtless possess a certain aura of otherworldliness, Gilman's unsophisticated religious are entirely too gullible to be taken seriously, even taking into consideration the novel's original publication date (1975). Narrator Roslyn Alexander turns in an excellent reading marked by superior characterization-especially for the masculine voices-and pacing, but this fluffy tale could easily be skipped.-Sister M. Anna Falbo, Villa Maria Coll. Lib., Buffalo, N.Y. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



1   Sister Hyacinthe was as dark as Sister John was fair, given to small superstitions, a certain amount of brooding that drew her brows together frequently, and a tendency to expect the worst. There was Indian blood in her background and this gave her cheekbones prominence and her skin a dark cast. She had been raised in impoverished hill country, her only contact with culture a group of Catholic nuns working among the poor. There was, or so Mother Clothilde had said, not a great deal to do with her.   Except enjoy her, Sister John had pointed out, but she appeared to be the only one who appreciated Sister Hyacinthe's fey qualities.   Sister John had never found anyone threatening; it was not in her nature, which was cheerful and abundantly optimistic. Nothing was impossible, she felt, if one only had faith. Sister Vincent said that she was like a silver bell, .999 pure, that always struck the right note. If at times this was tiresome to live with it was leavened by her competence, which was formidable, and her eagerness, which could be misplaced but was always ardent. Physically she was as luminous to look at as a Renoir.   Sister Hyacinthe, on the other hand, was pure Gauguin, and when the sisters of St. Tabitha prayed for the capacity to love God's less fortunate creatures it was frequently she who came unbidden to their minds. In the early days Mother Clothilde had tried her on sewing but her stitches were wild and she absentmindedly sewed altar cloths to her lap. She was indifferent to reading and to writing; she was a hazard in the kitchen and when Sister Vincent played Bach she fell asleep. Only with growing things did she feel at home, and it was the present abbess, more pragmatic than Clothilde, who reasoned that if this was her only gift then she might as well become an accomplished botanist, learning the scientific names of plants as well as their uses.   During the trip into New York State it became obvious that driving was not going to be added to Sister Hyacinthe's small list of skills. Sister John decided that Mr. Armisbruck's delivery boy must have been an incipient speed demon and the licensing examiner distraught when he tested her, for there was a distinctly erratic quality to her driving. They were stopped three times by policemen, once for driving only twenty miles an hour on the thruway, a second time for driving over eighty miles an hour, while a third police car overtook them with sirens shrieking because Sister Hyacinthe had seen skullcap and puffballs growing beside the thruway and parked to gather a few plants.   "There seem to be a great many regulations," said Sister John when this crisis had been met. "What was it he thought you were collecting?"   "Cannabis sativa," Sister Hyacinthe told her indignantly. "I explained that it was Scutellaria lateriflora but he said you couldn't trust anybody these days."   "Strange," said Sister John, and returned to her map, which suggested that presently they would leave the thruway behind them. It was a thought that pleased her because she knew God watched over them but she couldn't help feeling that Sister Hyacinthe's driving must tax Him to the limit.   By four o'clock, however, they had mercifully exchanged the thruway for Route 9-W. By half-past the hour they were in Gatesville asking directions to Fallen Stump Road, and five miles later Sister Hyacinthe drew up under a sign that read FALLEN STUMP ROAD. "I'm tired and my plants need water," she announced. "Are we nearly there?"   They peered down a country road that looked abandoned by all but postmen, lovers and Boy Scouts. The limbs of trees, heavy with dust and heat, hung low over an oiled dirt surface, and from the bushes came the keening of locusts. "According to the lawyer's map," said Sister John, "the Moretti property is bounded on three sides by this road."   Sister Hyacinthe looked expectantly into the wall of laurel on the right.   "According to his written directions," went on Sister John, "there's a road into the property nine tenths of a mile further along."   "Like a treasure hunt," said Sister Hyacinthe, nodding, and drove the van on down the road until her companion, eyes on the odometer, cried, "Stop!"   "Over there," said Sister John, pointing to a gap in the laurel and there, in just the right place, stood a pair of stone pillars almost totally obscured by ivy. Sister John climbed down and crossed the road and a moment later plucked a fallen mailbox from the grass. Time and weather had bleached most of the printing on it but the last four letters remained, and they were unquestionably e-t-t-i. "I think we're here," she called to Sister Hyacinthe. "Aim the van between the pillars and let's see what's on the other side."   A small jungle of undergrowth and a graveled driveway lay on the other side, and then the laurel thinned and they came out on a huge expanse of lawn grown wild with yellow mustard. At the crest of the lawn, some distance to their right, stood a house that bristled with turrets, gingerbread, eaves, gables and porches.   "But it's beautiful!" gasped Sister John. "Look at its size, Sister Hyacinthe, the view, the trees--this isn't a property, it's an estate."   Sister Hyacinthe's glance was skeptical. "Mmmm," she murmured noncommitally, and shifted gears, steered the van around a curve past a secondary drive that led to a barn and drew up beside the sagging front porch. The porch ran the width of the house, laced with thick wisteria vines knotted like macrame and beaded here and there with fading purple blossoms. As the engine died there was silence except for a low murmur from the thruway, which they could see winding like a serpent across the valley on their left.   "How wonderfully peaceful," murmured Sister John.   Sister Hyacinthe turned and gave her a curious glance. "Something moved in one of the upstairs windows, you know."   "Nonsense, Sister Hyacinthe, the house has been unoccupied for years."   "Something moved," she said stubbornly. "I saw it when we stopped back there to look."   "A curtain perhaps. There may be a window cracked or broken so that the wind blows through the house."   "There isn't any wind."   Sister John's glance was patient; it was she, after all, who insisted that Sister Hyacinthe kept them from being like peas in a pod (or like Pisum Leguminosae, she would add wryly). "A trick of light, then. The sun on the window."   "Or Mr. Moretti," said Sister Hyacinthe, crossing herself. "Doesn't it strike you as odd how little that lawyer would tell us about him?"   "Yes, but the lawyer made it plain that he's dead."   "Even worse," Sister Hyacinthe said, nodding. "The house is haunted, I feel it. Just see how dark it is and how the trees scrape against the windows. I know something moved upstairs, we'll go inside and Mr. Moretti will be walking the halls and what do we do then?"   "Thank him for bequeathing the house to St. Tabitha's," said Sister John briskly, "and then say in a polite but firm voice 'in the name of Jesus Christ go away,' which I believe is what one says to ghosts. Now are you going to come inside with me, Sister Hyacinthe, or sit here crossing yourself all afternoon?"   "I'll come," Sister Hyacinthe said gloomily.   Sister John picked up the long skirts of her blue cotton habit and ran lightly up the steps, opened a creaking screen door and inserted a key into the massive door behind it. Sister Hyacinthe followed nervously. The door gave a groan of protest, shuddered, opened and Sister John led the way into the hall.   Inside they stopped, taken aback by the opaque flat silence of the house. On either side of the hall loomed a dark and cavernous room; instinctively they turned toward the living room, whose far wall contained the more windows. The windows only faintly relieved the darkness, however, for ivy and wisteria had woven intricate patterns across the glass, blotting out all daylight except tiny chips of brilliance no larger than coins. In this green twilight Sister John and Sister Hyacinthe exchanged glances.   "Grim," admitted Sister John.   "But look, there's light somewhere," cried Sister Hyacinthe, and plunged joyfully across the main hall and down a passageway to follow dimness a shade lighter than the murk of the hall. Passing a succession of doors she emerged into blinding sunshine that came from a single window in a room at the back of the house. It was a kitchen, lined with ancient wooden cupboards and a tin sink. "Thank God--sunlight," she said fervently.   Sister John, following, stepped to a light switch, flicked it and when overhead illumination blended with the sunlight said with relief, "And I thank God for electricity, considering the fact that it'll be dark in a few hours ... Sister Hyacinthe, we'd better unpack while it's still daylight. We'll have bread for supper, some of Sister Scholastica's cheese and one of your herb teas."   "Valerian, I think," said Sister Hyacinthe. "It soothes the nerves."   They carried in bedrolls, the flashlight, food and the box of herbs, turning on lights as they went, lights that showed the living room to be not empty at all but crammed with shapes that looked like a herd of sheeted animals encamped for the night. Sister John unwrapped their supplies and began to slice bread at one corner of the kitchen table while Sister Hyacinthe hunted for a pail to fill with water for her plants. After opening the door of a broom closet, and then a pantry, she opened a third door and disappeared. From somewhere in the back she called, "There was a garden out here once. I can transplant my herbs tomorrow."   Her voice grew louder and she reappeared carrying a bucket. Moving to the sink she turned the faucet, twisted it back and forth, and said in exasperation, "Sister John, there's no water."   Sister John looked up. "Nonsense, there's electricity."   "Yes, but no water."   Together they attacked the spigot, which turned easily enough but produced only squeaks and a hollow rattling of pipes. "There has to be water somewhere," protested Sister Hyacinthe.   "The turn-on is probably in the cellar," Sister John said with a notable lack of enthusiasm.   "I don't think I could bear the cellar yet," confessed Sister Hyacinthe. "I saw a well in the garden, an old stone well with a roof over it, but there might be water in it, enough at least for my herbs. If there's more we can boil it for drinking." She looked at Sister John defiantly. "My plants simply have to be watered or they'll die from the heat."     Excerpt From: Dorothy Gilman. "Nun in the Closet." iBooks.   Excerpt From: Dorothy Gilman. "Nun in the Closet." iBooks.   Excerpt From: Dorothy Gilman. "Nun in the Closet." iBooks.   Excerpt From: Dorothy Gilman. "Nun in the Closet." iBooks.   Excerpt From: Dorothy Gilman. "Nun in the Closet." iBooks.   Excerpt From: Dorothy Gilman. "Nun in the Closet." iBooks.   Excerpt From: Dorothy Gilman. "Nun in the Closet." iBooks. Excerpted from A Nun in the Closet by Dorothy Gilman All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.